‘Red Wall’ voters happy to see Boris Johnson’s back


In the once prosperous cotton town of Heywood in north-west England, Boris Johnson’s misdemeanors were wearily taken for granted on the day of his resignation. The most pressing concern was what would happen next.

‘I think that’s actually the problem,’ said Samantha Bamforth, head of advisory services, checking her phone outside Heywood Fish Bar moments before Johnson announced he was resigning from the job. leadership of the Conservative Party.

“No one is good. If he leaves, who will replace him? What are their values? What is their public opinion? There is a lot going on right now, not just in this country, but in the world. Who is equipped to deal with it?

Just two and a half years ago, Johnson helped secure a narrow victory that turned the constituency of Heywood and Middleton blue for the first time in its history, part of the ‘red wall’ of pro-Brexit Labor seats in the north and Midlands captured by the then insurgent Tory leader.

Now local residents and Tory officials are wondering who will replace him and whether he can help maintain the party’s grip on the region.

Voters in this post-industrial, mildly conservative seat had no idea who should replace the man who resigned as they spoke to the Financial Times on Thursday, but rolled their eyes when Johnson’s name was mentioned .

A union jack flies through a garden in Middleton © Asadour Guzelian

Even members of the Conservative party seemed bewildered. “It’s ironic, isn’t it?” said a local conservative activist, who asked not to be named, of Johnson’s chaotic departure. “Because there was all this talk about it, and then it didn’t happen, then it happened, and now everyone is like ‘what happens now?

“You would think they would have thought of that, wouldn’t you?”

Outside the Amigo cafe-bar in Middleton town centre, Rachel, who did not want to give her last name, said the Prime Minister’s “story was obvious”. Referring to the plethora of scandals that preceded Johnson’s stint in Number 10, she added: ‘He had questionable personality traits which they felt could be separated from the job.

But she admitted she had no idea who might be best suited to fill her shoes. “I feel like that’s been part of the problem from the start.”

Wakefield, 40 miles down the road, shows the consequences Johnson’s behavior could have on the Conservative party. Two weeks ago he returned to Labour, the latest in a series of landslide by-election defeats.

As in Wakefield, Johnson’s waning popularity now means his name encounters a mixture of swearing and sniffling in Middleton.

Chef Darren Beesley © Asadour Guzelian

“Tell him he’s a wanker,” chef Darren Beesley said, placing meat patties in a tupperware in the back of Amigo’s cafe as the Prime Minister finished his resignation speech 200 miles away. the.

“I just don’t like liars,” he added. “If he was an honest idiot I would have a little more time for him, but one mistake after another and he didn’t seem to want to own up to any of his mistakes.”

Heywood and Middleton are former cotton towns on the outskirts of Manchester. In recent years Manchester has seen a city center boom and a new breath of economic life, but many towns on its outskirts, such as these, have not.

These are the places Johnson sought to tackle in 2019 with his ‘leveling up’ agenda, promising to bridge Britain’s deep regional economic divides and promising a ‘golden age for the UK’ .

‘Nothing has changed, darling,’ said Shirley Davis, a health care worker from Heywood who backed Labor in 2019 but said she had assumed Johnson would be ‘much better off’ than he was. actually was.

Sylvia Greenhalgh, left, and Shirley Davis discuss Boris Johnson’s failures © Asadour Guzelian

Now she feared rising bills and the potential for increased suicide rates as a result. Thursday, NHS data showed use of antidepressants had jumped by a fifth in seven years.

“He has to go, doesn’t he?” Because look at the trouble he caused, taking the microphone from the audience.

Worryingly for the opposition Labor Party, neither she nor the friend she was with had heard of its leader Sir Keir Starmer, highlighting the problems he might face in winning back the seat.

Johnson was not the first to point out the weaknesses of the traditional Labor vote in the region. Voters in Heywood and Middleton first fired a shot at the party’s bows in 2014, when Ukip, the pro-Brexit party, came within a few hundred votes of taking the seat.

A local Labor councilor pointed to the subsequent rise of hyper-local independent parties in pro-Leave Labor areas, including Heywood and Middleton, but also in parts of nearby Bury and Bolton, as well as further afield.

Johnson’s loss of popularity “will break the Tory’s grip in the north but not necessarily translate to Labour”, the adviser predicted. ‘Labour shouldn’t rely on the rift in our opposition vote – Keir must do more to win hearts and minds.’

Still, Tory MP for the seat, Chris Clarkson, will defend a majority of just 663 in the next election. He admitted his party had not “covered itself in glory” in recent weeks, adding: “No one can say we have a straight face.”

Clarkson had remained with Johnson this week and retained his post as parliamentary private secretary – a junior ministerial role – as a flood of others resigned. He said he and others had “tried to hold the line and stand by the Prime Minister because I think his intentions for the country are good”.

But he added: “In reality, we have reached the stage where people don’t have the confidence in government that they should have. And if the trust is gone, we have a very, very serious problem.


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